“How Can I support my child at home so that they can do well?” This question is asked every day, to all teachers, in all subjects and surprisingly for some parents the answer is relatively simple; you need to spend time with your children.
Sadly, in a world surrounded by marketed products to look younger, feel stronger, get fitter we automatically assume that there must be a cure-all that we can purchase to help our children’s study woes and guarantee they receive better results. However; the idea of throwing money at a problem to fix it simply does not work. You don’t need to be spending money, what needs to be spent is time.
It’s particularly important to address this commodities obsession as today is Mental Health Awareness Day, celebrated annually on the 10th of October since 1992. This year’s theme: Suicide Prevention.
Reports paint a bleak picture with suicide rates on the increase despite the number of awareness campaigns highlighting the importance of mental health. ‘Particular concerns were raised over an increase in the rates of young people aged from 10 to 24 killing themselves, with the overall rate for that age group reaching a 19-year high’(The Guardian, 3/09/19) The most common factor influencing this trend? Depression.
Now depression is a huge subject, one that can’t be simplified into one blog post, but if we take up one strand, outlined in the Pan African Medical Journal (May 2019), we can see that, ‘depression and exam anxiety were found to be highly correlated’.
With that in mind let’s go back to the original question, ‘How can I support my child at home?’ Many parents invest thousands of pounds in tutoring agencies to help boost their children’s chances of success. The research done by Dr Benjamin Bloom recognises the positive benefits personal tutoring can have on student learning and motivation. However, what many people don’t understand this is that the benefits are highly contingent on that instruction being dispensed by the right person to have these intended benefits. A tutor needs to stimulate critical thinking and investigative skills, not drill in answers by rote like a parrot, which is sadly what we see in a lot of tutoring situations. Children are sat in exam venues being given paper after paper to practice, but rarely are the mistakes made in those papers properly addressed and feedback so that students can learn and grow from their mistakes and this is where the problems start.
More often than not children find themselves in a pressured situation, “We have paid a lot of money for this so you better do well.” Failure becomes a non-option, and the walls start to feel like they are closing in on these young impressionable minds, anxiety kicks in, self-doubt takes over, panic attacks ensue and can the child perform well on the day of ‘the big test?’ Of course not! As it has become some monstrous event everyone is dreading. Inevitably, the child freezes in the exam and fails. The failure of the test is now not seen as a step on ones learning journey and something to learn from, but rather as part of themselves; I failed therefore I am a failure. It is then easy to see depression following.
It is not all doom and gloom however, suicide is never an inevitability, it is preventable and tutoring won’t always lead to a depressed and anxious child, the point I’m trying to make is that success can be achieved and goals reached for your children if we go back to the start and do one simple thing, spend time with them.
Many parents use the excuse that they do not have the ‘luxury’ of time. The latest from the office of National Statistics reports that 71.8% of families have both parents working. Financial pressures come into play and it feels, often, as if we don’t have a choice between work and family, but if we are to tackle this endemic growth of depression in our youth we have to find a way to put them first. That’s why I use the one hour rule. It doesn’t matter how crazy my life is I need to spend at least 1 hour a week giving my child quality 1:1 time.
One hour a week I set aside specifically to have quality time with my child. The work, laundry, cooking and chores can wait for an hour and in that time I can dedicate my focus to my child’s needs. I turn my phone on silent and leave it in the next room, the TV is turned off and I ask, “What do you want to do?”
Children desperately need our attention and simply being near them is not the same as engaging meaningfully. This weekend ask your child what they want to do, it could be something as simple as reading a book together, this lends itself to vocabulary development, comprehension skills can be developed if you ask questions about characters motives, what does your child predict will happen next? These small tasks boost their confidence in their own opinions and this directly helps improve literacy skills in the classroom.
Another thing I always recommend is reading a book as a family, where everyone in the household is reading the same text. At the dinner table we discuss what we enjoyed most about the chapter that week and I often visit this website for prompts to critical thinking questions to really stimulate good discussion.
Tip: A sneaky hack to get teenagers interested in this family book club is to allow them to listen to the Audio Book version of the text, this takes away the pressure of ‘reading’ as a chore but still holds the benefits of vocabulary development and critical thinking skills when discussed as a family.
Sometimes our hour is just spent chatting about the week’s events. Children love hearing about stories from their parent’s childhoods as it helps them navigate tricky social situations knowing how you dealt with past experiences of a similar nature.
Put simply, spending time with your children results in them feeling much more settled, less stressed, more secure, and confident and therefore will be more inclined to do better at school as they will be able to come to class ready to learn, not with an anxious heart full of dread. This will hopefully have a knock on effect in that the more secure your children feel in their relationship with you, it means that when they fail, as everyone does from time to time, they have that safe space, that minimum of an hour each week to come to you and discuss their feelings. This will mean they are less anxious and less prone to feeling exam stresses and therefore less prone to bouts of depression linked to exam fatigue.
So before taking out the cheque book or buying study guides online with the credit card, take a moment to spend something much more valuable, time with your children.
For more details on how to make ‘failing feel safe’ read: How to help your child deal with rejection.